UPDATED: 11:26 a.m. ET, April 1, 2021 —
While death is inevitably a part of life, that truth doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to those who have died. Keep reading to learn more about the notable Black lives that we’ve lost in 2021.
Alvin Sykes, hailed as a self-taught legal defender and civil rights activist, died at the age of 64 at a hospice in Kansas on March 19. Sykes was most famously known for his work on landmark cold cases and helped reopen the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till.
According to a close friend, Sykes died from complications from a fall that left him partially paralyzed two years ago, The New York Times reports. In addition to his work on cold cases Sykes assisted local, state and federal lawmakers to reform jury selection and advocated for DNA research in murder investigations.
Sarah Obama, the paternal step-grandmother of President Barack Obama died on Monday after being hospitalized for a week, relatives and officials confirmed. Her death was not related to COVID-19 complications. She was at least 99 years old and will be buried on Tuesday.
“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman, a matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
News circulated on March 25 that renowned poet and actor Craig “muMs” Grant died from an unknown cause. Grant’s death was shared by “Real World” star and fellow writer Kevin Powell, who posted a tribute to Grant on Twitter. Grant was most notably known for his role as Arnold “Poet” Jackson on the groundbreaking HBO series “Oz,” and starred in a series of movies and films including Netflix’s “Luke Cage” and “She’s Gotta Have It.”
Hall of Fame basketball player Elgin Baylor died March 22 at the age of 86. His wife confirmed the Los Angeles Lakers legend’s death and said Baylor died of natural causes.
Jeannie Buss, the owner of the Lakers, mourned Baylor in a statement:
“Elgin was THE superstar of his era — his many accolades speak to that,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said in a statement. “He was one of the few Lakers players whose career spanned from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But more importantly he was a man of great integrity, even serving his country as a U.S. Army reservist, often playing for the Lakers only during his weekend pass. He is one of the all-time Lakers greats with his No. 22 jersey retired in the rafters and his statue standing guard in front of STAPLES Center. He will always be part of the Lakers legacy. On behalf of the entire Lakers family, I’d like to send my thoughts, prayers and condolences to Elaine and the Baylor family.”
Antoine Hodge, a respected and celebrated opera singer, died from COVID-19 on Feb. 22. He was 38 years old. Hodge recently appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 production of “Porgy and Bess.”
Douglas Turner Ward, an actor and the co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, died Feb. 20 at the age of 90. His cause of death was not immediately announced. Ward, who appeared in Broadway plays such as, “A Raisin in the Sun,” was a champion for Black playwrights at a time when support for them for nearly nonexistent. He said he was proud of the success his company has had over the years.
“I’m proud of the personnel that we trained and the fact that they’re still active in every field of theater, TV and film,” Ward told the Roundabout Theater Company in an interview published nearly a year ago. “Not just the writers, but the actors, the designers, the stage managers, the backstage personnel, the directors. Everybody. To this day they are all over American show business working. And some creating their own theaters.”
Mary Wilson, one of the founding members of The Supremes, the legendary trio who went on to make music history with the legendary Motown Records, has died at the age of 76. Her death on Feb. 8 was unexpected, according to her publicist. There was no cause of death immediately announced. Scroll down to learn more about her life and the lasting impact she left on popular music.
Former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks died on Feb. 5 after a five-year battle with prostate and other cancers. Spinks, 67, was most famously known for one of the greatest sports upsets of all time during a 1978 boxing match with Muhammad Ali, where he beat the champ, securing the heavyweight title. Several months later Ali reclaimed the title. Although they were fierce competitors the two stayed close well into their later years.
The world is mourning an icon after it was revealed that Oscar-nominated actress Cicely Tyson died on Jan. 28. Her cause of death is unknown. At age 96, Tyson was one of the most acclaimed actresses in Hollywood, paving the way for Black thespians while representing the last of the film industry’s golden age. But her road to success was tested at several points in career where she was faced with racism, sexism, misogynoir. Throughout her career which spanned over 60 years in television, film and theatre, Cicely was nominated for 52 awards, with 49 wins.
Her death comes just two days after the release of her memoir “Just as I am” in which Tyson reflected on her contributions and her personal trials and tribulations.
Major League Baseball hero Hank Aaron died on Jan. 22 at the age of 86 from an unknown cause, according to his daughter who confirmed the tragic news. Aaron was a prolific athlete who rose through poverty as a child of the Great Depression to become hailed as baseball’s “home run king.” In 1974 he made history shattering the record held by Babe Ruth of 714 home runs in a career.
Fans and supporters of Aaron’s legacy shared their grief on social media, mourning the loss of another great sports legend.
Meredith C. Anding Jr., a civil rights icon who as a member of the “Tougaloo Nine” was arrested for entering a “whites only” library in 1961, died Jan. 8. Anding was 79 years old. The cause of death was complications from leukemia. Scroll down to read more about his life.
Scroll down to see some of the other notable Black people who have died in 2021.
Rest In Power: Notable Black Folks Who We’ve Lost In 2021 was originally published on newsone.com
1. Alvin Sykes, civil rights activist, 64Source:Kansas City Public Library
Sykes was a respected civil rights activist and a self-taught legal investigator who helped reopen the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till. He died on March 19 at the age of 64.
2. Sarah Obama, paternal step-grandmother of Barack Obama, 99Source:Getty
Sarah Obama, the matriarch of President Barack Obama’s Kenyan family died on March 29 in Kenya after being hospitalized for a week. She was 99 years old.
3. Craig “muMs” Grant, poet-actorSource:Getty
Renowned actor and poet Craig “muMs” Grant died of an unknown cause. Grant was most notably known for his role as Arnold “Poet” Jackson on the groundbreaking HBO series “Oz.”
4. Elgin Baylor, NBA legend, 86Source:Getty
Elgin Baylor, the NBA legend and Hall of Fame player who wowed as a star on the hardcourt with the Los Angeles Lakers before he did the same in the boardroom as an executive with the Los Angeles Clippers, died March 22 at the age of 86.
Baylor’s wife said her husband died of natural causes.
ESPN reported: “Considered one of basketball’s greatest players, Baylor was an 11-time All-Star and 10-time All-NBA selection during his 14 seasons with the Lakers from 1958 to 1971. He was the 1958-59 Rookie of the Year as well as the All-Star Game MVP that year. He averaged a double-double for his career, posting 27.4 points and 13.5 rebounds per game.”
Baylor is survived by his wife and daughter.
5. Yaphet Kotto, actor, 81
Actor Yaphet Kotto died March 15 at the age of 81. His wife announced the death via his Facebook page but didn’t offer a cause of death.
Kotto was a classically trained actor who went on to achieve success on the stage as well as the big and small screens. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award in 1979 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
Fans might remember him from his starring role on the network TV show, “Homicide: Life on the Street,” in the 1990s, as well as his movie roles, including a James Bond villain in “Live and Let Die,” which was filmed in predominately Black settings.
6. Reggie Warren, singer, 52Source:Getty
Celebrated singer Reggie Warren died on March 14 surrounded by loved ones in his Pasadena, California, home. Warren was a founding member of TROOP, a New Jack Swing R&B group that rose to fame in the early 90’s. He was 52.
7. Jo Thompson, muscian-singer, 92
Thompson, a Detroit native, died on March 9 at the age of 92.
8. Paul H. Brock, journalist, 89
Brock, the founding executive director of the The National Association of Journalists (NABJ) died on March 14 at the age of 89, according to the NABJ. Prior to his death Brock served in several high-profile roles in the field of journalism, including news director at Howard University’s WHUR-FM, director of communications for the Democratic National Committee and the campaign communications manager for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign.
9. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxing legend, 66Source:Getty
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, the legendary boxing middleweight champion, died March 13 at the age of 66. Hagler’s wife said in a Facebook post that he “passed away unexpectedly at his home” in New Hampshire. During his career that spanned 14 impressive years, Hagler lost just two times and scored 53 knockouts while amassing 62 wins.
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1954 before going on to grow up in Brockton, Massachusetts, Hagler ultimately became a sports legend in nearby Boston.
Hagler defended his title 12 times before he famously lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in a split decision in 1987 during what turned out to be his final boxing match.
10. Robert Ashby, military hero, 95Source:Getty
Robert Ashby, one of the three surviving members of the Tuskegee Air Force died on March 5 at the age of 95, the Associated Press reports.
11. Obe Noir, rapper-activist, 31Source:Instagram
Noir, a respected Houston rapper and activist was gunned down on March 8. He was 31. Police are actively investigating his death.
12. Marshall Latimore, journalist, 36Source:The Atlanta Voice
Latimore, a Birmingham, Alabama, native and award-winning journalist, died on March 10. Latimore worked as editor-in-chief of The Atlanta Voice. He was 36.
13. Lawrence Otis Graham, author, 59Source:Getty
Graham, a New York Times bestseller, died on Feb. 19. He was 59 years old. His works published in the 1990’s examined the intricacies and tensions surrounding Black people who achieved financial mobility in America.
14. Jahmil French, actor, 28Source:Getty
Fans mourned the 28-year-old “Degrassi” actor’s death on March 2.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of a dear friend and client Jahmil French,” his agent Gabrielle Kachman said in a statement. “He will be remembered by many for his passion for the arts, his commitment to his craft, and his vibrant personality. I ask that you keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”
15. Bunny Wailer, reggae icon, 73Source:Getty
Wailer, a reggae icon and musical giant died on Tuesday at the age of 73.
16. Irv Cross, legendary broadcaster, 81Source:Getty
Cross, a former NFL defensive back who made history in the broadcasting industry died on Feb. 28. He was 81. He made history as the first Black man to work as a full-time sports analyst on national television. His death announcement was made by his former team the Philadelphia Eagles. Cross was drafted to the Eagles in the 1961 NFL draft where he spent six years before he was traded to the Rams. During his time in the NFL, he made two Pro Bowls before retiring in 1969.
17. Shelia Washington, founder, Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, 61Source:William H. Hampton
Washington died from a heart attack in January at the age of 61. For over a decade she waged a campaign to exonerate the Scottsboro Boys, a group of Black teens who were falsely accused of raping white women aboard a train in Alabama in the 1930s.
18. Antoine Hodge, opera singer, 38Source:GoFundMe
Hodge, 38, died from COVID-19 complications after battling the disease for weeks.
19. Douglas Turner Ward, actor, Negro Ensemble Company co-founder, 90Source:WENN
Douglas Turner Ward, an actor and champion of Black playwrights who was the co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company, died Feb. 20 at the age of 90.
Ward wrote a column in the New York Times that ultimately led to the company’s start.
“If any hope, outside of chance individual fortune, exists for Negro playwrights as a group — or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsman — the most immediate, pressing, practical, absolutely minimally essential active first step is the development of a permanent Negro repertory company of at least Off-Broadway size and dimension,” Ward wrote at the time. “Not in the future … but now!”
That prompted the Ford Foundation to grant him the funds needed to establish the Negro Ensemble Company, which went on to produce stage classics such as “A Soldiers Play,” starring Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, and “The River Niger.”
20. Prince Markie Dee, rapper, 52Source:Getty
Prince Markie Dee, who rose to fame as a founding member of the pioneering 1980s rap group, Fat Boys, died Feb. 17 at the age of 52. He reportedly died from congestive heart failure. Hip Hop Wired reports:
“Prince Markie Dee appeared in the ensemble cast of Krush Groove, which was loosely based on the life of Russell Simmons, and with the Fat Boys also starred in their own movie called Disorderlies in 1987. The Fat Boy’s self-titled debut was released in 1984 and produced by Kurtis Blow. Their 1987 album Crushin’ went platinum.
“After the Fat Boys’ run, Markie found success as solo acts, with ‘Typical Reasons (Swing My Way)’ from his 1992 solo album Free. The song became a no. 1 single and he eventually settled in as a producer, as Soul Convention with Cory Rooney, as well as a radio host. Recently he had been hosting a show on SiriusXM’s LL Cool J-founded Rock The Bells.”
21. Vincent Jackson, former NFL star, 38Source:Getty
Vincent Jackson, a former wide receiver for several NFL teams, was found dead in a hotel room in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 15. He was just 38 years old. The circumstances surrounding his death were not immediately reported and condolences poured in from around the professional football community for someone who was universally regarded as a great player and even better person. His family had reported him missing on Feb. 10.
22. Danny Ray, MC who put cape on James Brown, 85Source:Getty
Danny Ray, who worked with James Brown for more than four decades in various roles, including as the man who put the singer’s cape on him while he was performing on stage, died. on Feb. 2 at the age of 85, the Washington Post reported. No cause of death was listed.
In addition to handling Brown’s cape, Ray was effectively his personal fashion stylist, valet and overall personal assistant. Ray would also faithfully introduce Brown before his performances.
23. Frederick K.C. Price, evangelist, 89
Frederick K.C. Price, a televangelist Christian preacher who had one of the first predominately Black megachurches in the U.S., has died following complications from COVID-19. He died on Feb. 12 at the age of 89.
The New York Times reported:
“Mr. Price founded the Crenshaw Christian Center in Inglewood, Calif., in 1973, according to the church’s website. Its membership has grown to over 28,000 from 300 at its inception.
“In addition to services in the FaithDome, a 10,000-seat building, Mr. Price began televising his services locally in 1978 through Ever Increasing Faith Ministries, the missionary outreach arm of the church, after he had ‘received instruction from God,’ according to the church’s website. Mr. Price had begun broadcasting his services on the radio years earlier, and expanded the televised broadcasts ‘in an effort to reach Black America.'”
24. Terez Paylor, sports journalist, 37Source:facebook
Yahoo Sports journalist Terez Paylor died unexpectedly on Feb. 9 at the age of 37.
25. Mary Wilson, co-founder of The Supremes, 76Source:Getty
Mary Wilson, one of the founding members of The Supremes, has died at the age of 76. Her death on Feb. 8 was unexpected. There was no cause of death immediately announced.
A press release announcing Wilson’s death remembered her as someone who “changed the face of pop music to become a trendsetter who broke down social, racial, and gender barriers, which all started with the wild success of their first number one song. Formed in Detroit as The Primettes in 1959, The Supremes were Motown’s most successful act of the 1960s, scoring 12 No. 1 singles. They also continue to reign as America’s most successful vocal group to date. Their influence not only carries on in contemporary R&B, soul and pop, they also helped pave the way for mainstream success by Black artists across all genres.”
26. Karen Lewis, former Chicago Teachers Union president, 67Source:Getty
Former Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis died on Feb. 7 from brain cancer, NBC News Chicago reports. Lewis was known for her fiery activism, spearheading a 2011 effort which in 2012 resulted in the first teachers strike in 25 years. Lewis, a former chemistry teacher will be remembered as a champion for educators in Chicago and helped mobilize the group to fight for equity. She battled a series of health issues before her death. In 2017 she suffered a stroke and in 2018, she was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
27. Leon Spinks, former heavyweight champion, 67Source:Getty
Spinks died on Feb. 5 after battling prostate and other cancers.
28. Dianne Durham, gymnast, 52Source:Getty
Dianne Durham, a trailblazer in the gymnast world died on Feb. 4 at the age of 52 after suffering from a short, unknown illness according to NBC News. Durham was the first Black person to win a USA Gymnastics national championship. Her vision and fortitude paved the way for other Black women gymnasts like Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles.
29. John Chaney, college basketball coaching legend, 89Source:Getty
30. Cicely Tyson, actresss, 96Source:Getty
Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died on Thursday at the age of 96. Her death was confirmed by Larry Thompson, her manager of 40 years, who released a statement to Variety. Tyson passed just two days after the release of her memoir, “Just as I am.” She paved the way for Black actors in Hollywood and her presence on the screen and in the world will be sorely missed.
31. Hank Aaron, MLB icon, 86Source:Getty
Aaron, a baseball legend who made history in 1974 when he shattered Babe Ruth’s home run record, died on Jan. 22 at the age of 86. Fans and supporters shared their grief on social media, honoring the MLB icon with tributes and thanks for what he gave the game of baseball, as well as his civil rights and philanthropic efforts.
32. Duranice Pace, gospel singer, 62Source:Getty
Pace, 62, was the eldest sister of “The Annointed Pace Sisters,” which consisted of Duranice, June Pace–Martin, Melonda Pace, Dejuaii Pace, Leslie Pace, Latrice Pace and Lydia Pace. The Atlanta-based group helped catapult the city into the mainstream as a musical landmark in the south. The Pace Sisters recorded a total of seven albums together including chart toppers, “U-Know,” “Access Granted,” “My Purpose” and “Return.” On social media her fans and supporters continue to reflect on the musical legacy she left behind.
Famed and beloved gospel singer Duranice Pace died on Jan. 14, according to family members who confirmed via social media. She was 62-years-old. Pace was the eldest sister of “The Annointed Pace Sisters,” which consisted of Duranice, June Pace–Martin, Melonda Pace, Dejuaii Pace, Leslie Pace, Latrice Pace and Lydia Pace. The Atlanta-based group helped catapult the city into the mainstream as a musical landmark in the south.
Details surrounding her death are scarce. Those close to Pace confirmed that she battling an unknown illness and was hospitalized last week. On social media Pace’s supporters asked for prayers and well-wishes in hopes that she would recover.
33. Tim Lester, NFL star, 52Source:Getty
Tim Lester, a former NFL star who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas Cowboys, died on Jan. 12 from COVID-19 complications. He was 52. After his almost decade long career in the NFL, he dedicated his life to coaching and philanthropy efforts in Milton, Georgia.
Tim Lester, a former NFL star who was known on the gridiron as “The Bus Driver,” died on Jan. 12 from COVID-19 complications. He was 52. Lester played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Dallas Cowboys during his almost decade long career in the game. Lester’s former teammate all-star Emmitt Smith memorialized him on Twitter after the tragic news broke.
“It’s a sad day to hear of Tim Lester’s passing…My thoughts go out to his family, Steelers Nation and his teammates that he so steadily blocked and protected. RIP to “The Bus Driver,” Smith wrote.
34. Bryan Monroe, former NABJ president, 55Source:Getty
Monroe died from a heart attack at age 55 on Jan. 13. He served as president of the NABJ from 2005-2007. Monroe was a chair at Verizon and taught in the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia. During his career in the news Monroe also worked as an editor for CNN’s political site and accrued acclaim for his leadership at the Biloxi Sun Herald during Hurricane Katrina. Following, the outlet won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage.
Former NABJ President Bryan Monroe died of a heart attack at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, on Jan. 13, according to a statement. Monroe served as president of the illustrious organization which provides advocacy and training for Black journalists, from 2005-2007. He was a chair member at Verizon and taught at the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.
35. Meredith C. Anding Jr., civil rights icon, 79
Meredith C. Anding Jr., a civil rights icon who as a member of the “Tougaloo Nine” was arrested for entering a “whites only” library in 1961, has died. Anding was 79 years old. The cause of death was complications from leukemia.
The Associated Press reported: “The Tougaloo Nine were students at the historically Black institution Tougaloo College who staged a peaceful sit-in at Jackson’s white-only library on March, 27, 1961. It is widely considered the first student protest of segregation at a public institution in Mississippi.”
36. Eric Jerome Dickey, best-selling author, 59Source:Getty
Dickey left a career as a software engineer to pursue his art and worked diligently at his craft for years writing poetry, comedy, and scripts until he published his first novel “Sister, Sister” in 1996.” Over the course of his career Dickey published 29 novels and was honored as a New York Times best-selling author. He also earned a series of NAACP Image Awards, the 2006 Best Contemporary Fiction and Author of The Year, and Storyteller of the Year in 2008 at the 1st Annual Essence Literary Awards.
37. Floyd Little, football legend, 78Source:Getty
College and professional football star Floyd Little died on New Year’s Day. He was 78 years old and died following a brief battle with cancer. In 1964, Little chose to attend Syracuse University, where he was a three-time all-American. That collegiate stardom paved Little’s way to star in the then-AFL for the Denver Broncos, a team that later became part of the larger group of professional football franchises popularly known as the NFL. Speaking of “franchise,” that became Little’s nickname on the Broncos as he went on to set several rushing marks.